There wasn’t much to celebrate Sunday in the 49ers’ 13-10 loss to the Rams.
From the Niners’ perspective, it was a game that got away. Instead of being 5-3 and tied with Seattle for second in the NFC West behind 7-1 Arizona, San Francisco is 4-4.
But one player who stood out for the 49ers was rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland, who was starting in place of the injured Patrick Willis.
Borland, the former Wisconsin standout, had a team-high 18 tackles (15 of them solo), and showed great range, roaming sideline to sideline, while also making a number of stops close to the line of scrimmage. He had three tackles for loss. His 18 tackles were the most by a 49er since last December when Willis had 18 in a game.
In fact, according to Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus, Borland’s 12 defensive stops (tackles that prevented a first down) were the most “by any NFL player in a game this season.”
Some of his stops were eye-catching, as well. In the fourth quarter he brought down Rams rookie running back Tre Mason with a body slam for a loss.
It was Borland’s second straight game in the starting lineup. He also started against Denver two weeks before. His performance against the Rams was much better, but after the game, Borland wasn’t happy. He was still angry at himself for missing an assignment that allowed a Rams receiver to score on a 21-yard pass play.
“They ran vertical routes to my right and a drag to my left, and I thought I had help, but I should have known I didn’t to the outside,” Borland told the 49ers website. “So the drag, I should have covered it. I blew (one) that cost us a touchdown and may have cost us the game.”
Borland started for Willis again, who has a sprained toe. Willis had hoped to play against the Rams, but was held out. It’s possible Willis could play this Sunday in New Orleans against the Saints.
But if he can’t go, Borland has shown that he can play in the NFL.
Still, Borland isn’t savoring his performance. The loss left “a sour taste in my mouth,” he said.
Borland was an interesting pick by the 49ers in the third round of the draft this year. He’s not especially big or fast at 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, and he has relatively short arms – something that GM Trent Baalke usually dislikes in a prospect.
But both Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh loved the way Borland played at Wisconsin as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for 2013.
Said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, when the 49ers selected Borland: “In a division of hardheads, the 49ers have just added a thundering hardhead. He’s too short. He’s too slow. I don’t care, he can play.”